Carolina had hoped to build on the excitement generated by a history-making win in Toronto and a series of impactful trades made in the hours leading up to the trade deadline. Yet, it wasn’t meant to be. The Canes were outplayed by a Dallas team that never looked seriously challenged.
What to make of it? Let’s dig in and see what we can find out.
Newcomers had their chances — but didn’t take them
Last night, four players donned Hurricane gear for the first time this season. Vincent Trocheck, Brady Skjei, and Alex Nededljkovic all logged significant minutes (Anton Forsberg served as the backup goaltender).
Each, in their own way, had their moments. Nevertheless, missed opportunities abounded for the new guys.
Vincent Trocheck centered Martin Necas and Nino Niederreiter on the 2nd line, and they seemed like the Canes’ best line in the first period. Although Trocheck didn’t register a shot on goal, he had several golden opportunities. Necas hit him with several passes, including a feed from below the goalline that Trocheck sent over the crossbar. In the faceoff circle, Trocheck won 11 of 19 faceoffs — a solid debut and much needed considering the number of left shots on the Carolina roster.
Brady Skjei’s Carolina career didn’t get off to a great start. Only seconds into his debut, a pass from Sebastian Aho jumped Skjei’s stick along the boards. The puck went straight to Jamie Benn, who hit Tyler Seguin wide-open in front of the net. The first shot was stopped — but not the second.
Aside from the ominous start, Skjei played well. He finished the game with five shots on goal, killed penalties, and moved the puck well throughout the game. He had a Grade A chance to cut the Dallas lead to one in the second period, as he jumped in beautifully and took the puck to his backhand, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
After the first minute goal by Dallas, Alex Nedjelkovic appeared to be settling in. The Canes dominated possession and shots during the majority of the first period. But after an unsuccessful powerplay and a penalty on Trocheck, it all went wrong. After killing off 1:30 of the powerplay, Roope Hintz undressed Joel Edmundson and scored a highlight-reel goal. With less than a minute left to go in the period, Edmundson got caught out on a pinch that led to a 3-on-1. Haydn Fleury slid directly into Ned, and the rebound off the glass was potted by Jason Dickinson, who was all alone in front of the net.
It was not the debut Ned wanted, and his veteran defensemen did him no favors.
Trouble at home
Last night’s loss was the third straight at home for the Canes. With the season winding down, the Canes are limping across the finish line at PNC Arena. They haven’t won back-to-back home games since before the All-Star break and haven’t held an opponent to fewer than four goals scored since their last home win on Valentine’s Day over the Devils.
After one more home game against the Avalanche on Friday, the Canes start a six-game road trip. Normally, that might seem like a challenge, but given their troubles at home, maybe it’s just what they need.
Leaders must lead
With the injuries piling up, and new faces arriving, leadership becomes all the more critical.
The Canes’ leadership group (Staal, Williams, Slavin, Martinook) must get the team pulling in the same direction. They also need to start producing themselves. As usual, Slavin has been getting it done. He’s a workhorse on both ends, and last night was no exception. He created the opportunity that Aho cashed in for the Canes only goal of the night, and was solid in all three zones. But Jordan Staal, Justin Williams, and Jordan Martinook did not have their best game.
If the Canes are to come together and push for a playoff spot, Carolina will need to get point production from the players over the age of 30.
Similarly, Jake Gardiner and Ryan Dzingel — highly regarded free agent signings over the summer — need to live up to the hype. Dzingel has been a healthy scratch and is now playing on the fourth line. He’s manning the half-wall on the 2nd PP unit. If he’s going to get hot, it sure would be a great time.
The same goes for Gardiner. He’s been the quarterback of the 2nd unit the entire season, but the production just hasn’t been there. For the Canes to cope with the injuries that have occurred, Gardiner needs to be the offensive threat he is capable of being.
To Wrap It Up
It’s not time to panic, but time is running out. The Canes now find themselves in ninth place in the East, only two points out of a playoff spot, but also only two points ahead of the Rangers and the Panthers.
Of course, both of those teams were de facto sellers at the trade deadline, but that won’t prevent them from moving ahead of the Canes in the standings.
It’s do or die time for the Canes. There may be no more critical stretch than the next two weeks.
Hopefully, they make the most of their opportunities.